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Giving a Defense May 25, 2014

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1 Peter 3:13-22

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 25th, 2014

Focus: God saves us through our baptism into Christ and His forgiveness.

Function: That the hearers be prepared to give a defense to anyone for the hope that is in them.

Structure: Here is a prevailing view…but here is the message of the gospel.

 

Giving a Defense

 

Today’s epistle reading from Peter gives us a verse that the church really loves.  It’s well known; we like to talk about it when we bring our children through confirmation and youth group and when we sit together for Adult Bible studies.  “[A]lways [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect[.]”

I know you’ve heard those words before.  At the very least, they were just read to you a few minutes ago in our time together worshiping God today.  But I’m sure you’ve heard them before.  This verse has become our favorite verse when we talk about apologetics, or the idea of defending our faith.

We have to know what we believe so that we can defend ourselves from Satan’s attacks, so we can fight off evolution, or the views on atheism that dominate our college campuses.  You must know what you believe so you can give your defense.  But, Peter tells us, we must do it with gentleness and respect.  Because you’re not going to win anyone over in an argument or a fistfight.

I’ll admit, I’ve done this.  I’ve used this verse from Peter the same way before.  And while we do need to know what we believe, that’s not what this verse is about.  Instead, looking at in this way is taking the easy way out.  It’s the way that helps us avoid the hard truth that he was actually trying to tell us.  We’ve taken it out of its context and avoided the real meaning.

Read 1 Peter 3:13-17

Peter is really telling us about suffering, about persecution.  When you suffer for your faith, when you’re down and out, people will wonder why you don’t just give up.  Why?  Why won’t you just stop being stubborn and turn away from that faith of yours?  If you do, all this ends.  It’s in that moment, that precise moment, that Peter wants us to be able and prepared to give a defense.  And that doesn’t mean to stand up and fight back.

Peter tells us to be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in us.  To take this opportunity as a chance, as a means to share what Jesus has done for you.  We see this throughout the book of Acts.  We see Peter and John arrested and told they will be released if they just stop preaching about Jesus.  We see Stephen given the same opportunity to stop sharing the gospel and when he keeps on going, he gets stoned.  But even in his dying breaths, he proclaims Christ and then asks God to forgive these men for what they’ve done.

Without a doubt, this is still happening to the global church.  Numbers from 2013 tell us that 2,123 Christians were martyred for their faith.  But those are just the ones reported.  And considering that persecution of Jesus and His followers is severe in some of the third world countries where there is no media or news presence, the number of martyrs is certainly higher.

But that said, there’s a reason Peter doesn’t equate suffering and persecution with death.  You don’t have to be martyred to be suffering for your faith.  Being persecuted doesn’t automatically mean death.  Indeed, it happens on a smaller scale everyday around the world.

Think back, if you can, just two generations ago in this country.  The Christian church enjoyed a prominent position in America.  Churches were the center of your social network.  It was expected that everyone would be in church; and if you missed a Sunday, people noticed.  Christian values influenced politics and helped determine how people ran their businesses.  Communities, schools, and athletic teams recognized that Wednesdays and Sundays were sacred days and they didn’t try to interfere with the church.

But it’s time for us to take a real long look at the world we live in and admit the truth.  The church in America today no longer enjoys these privileges.  Businesses are open on Sunday.  Most sports leagues schedule games on Sunday morning and our children aren’t here because they have to run around a track or put the ball in a net.  The NFL is even testing out a game this season, on Sunday, October 26th, between the Atlanta Falcons and the Detroit Lions that kicks off at 8:30 am.  That’s right during the middle of the sermon.  How many churches in Michigan and Georgia will sit empty that morning?  And if it were the Vikings, what would this sanctuary look like?

But it’s not just sports, or Wednesdays, or Sundays.  We see the fact that the church has been pushed to the outside most clearly in the major social and political movements of our day.  Now, I’m not going to stand up here and rail against the issues.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know them, you know what’s going on in the world today from womb to grave.  Instead, I’m going to point out to you how these issues are changing the American church.

And, it all starts with pressure.  We feel the pressure to change our views in order to not offend people.  And many churches have.  They’ve stopped calling people to repentance for any number of sins in our culture, and instead are simply allowing them to live their lives unrepenting of their sins.

But it truly does go further than this today.  In recent years, those who hold to a traditional, conservative, and confessional Christian faith have been suffering for it in the United States.  And, sometimes, the media has even talked about it!

Many Christians in the last few decades have seen their relationships with friends and family damaged, if not ruined, because they tried to tell people not to get divorced or not to have sex before marriage.  That that wasn’t how God designed His creation to work.

In the wedding industry, stories have flooded the news about photographers and florists being fined and forced to close their doors.  There’s a baker facing jail time, a sports broadcaster who was fired from Fox Sports for his views.  Counselors and university teachers are losing their jobs as well for not simply giving up their faith.

Mozilla, the company that makes the Firefox web browser for your computers and other gizmos, recently forced their CEO and co-founder Brendan Eich to step down because six years ago he donated money to California’s Proposition 8 campaign, which passed, by the way.  And just this month, twin brothers David and Jason Benham were informed by HGTV, the Home and Garden channel on your cable or satellite subscription, that the plug was being pulled on their new show “Flip it Forward.” These two men won’t be able to charitably remodel homes for hurting and broken families because they have conservative views on abortion and marriage.

Strained or lost friendships and relatives.  Losing your job and thus the finances to put food on the table and a roof over your family’s head.  Being sued or fined large sums of money.  Being arrested and put in prison.  That’s suffering.  That’s persecution.  And it’s happening right now in our own backyard.

These men and women are experiencing firsthand what Peter was talking about today.  Be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in you.  And they are doing just that.  The baker, in the midst of vandalism to her home and vehicle and death threats to her children, said:

To all of you that have been praying for Aaron and I, I want to say thank you. I know that your prayers are being heard. I feel such a peace with all of this that is going on.  Even though there are days that are hard and times of struggle we still feel that the Lord is in this. It is His fight and our situation is in His hands. – theblaze.com

 

And from the twin brothers from HGTV:

God is just looking for some people that are willing to die to themselves, die to their reputation, that do not fear men or have a man-pleasing spirit. We fear God more than we do man. –afa.net

 

What is missing from these quotes is the reason for our hope.  Perhaps they said it and are still saying it and the news outlets just don’t want to report it.  “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”  What is that hope?

Peter tells us with his next words:  Read 1 Peter 3:18-22

Christ suffered for the truth; He suffered for us.  He allowed Himself to be beaten and battered and bloodied upon the cross.  And as He went through this whole process, He constantly pointed people to His Father in heaven, to the forgiveness of sins and to the life everlasting.  Oh, they taunted Him on the cross.  From the soldiers: “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!”  From the religious leaders: “He saved others, but He can’t save Himself!  He’s the king of Israel!  Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him.”  And from one of the thieves crucified with Him: “Aren’t You the Messiah?  Save Yourself and us!”

And He could have.  But then our hope would be gone.  Christ’s death forgives our sins.  It brings us back to God.  And through our baptisms, this is most certainly true.  We are united with Him in His death and in His resurrection.  We are forgiven, we are saved, and we will live forever.  That is our hope, our hope that is in Christ.  That is the defense you must always be prepared to give.  Peter wasn’t talking about the depths of theological doctrines or the all the wonders of Scripture.  Just the hope that is in Christ.

I can’t predict the future.  I can’t say where this will go moving forward and whether persecution will increase or decrease.  But I do know that God has called us to live our lives for Him.  And Peter doesn’t simply talk about persecution and suffering, but he the talks about them in the midst of doing what is good.

If we are serving the Lord, if we’re putting the things of His kingdom before the things of this world, if we’re loving our neighbors, if we are doing good to the community we live in, and the world we live in, we may suffer, we may not.  It could be that the love of God overwhelms them, that the good of God captures their hearts and they join with us in the faith.  But they could also allow the evils of Satan, the world, and the sinful flesh to block out God’s love for them and to continue to treat us like they once treated Christ Himself.  But whatever may happen, it’s my prayer for you that you would be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”  And because that hope is in Christ, I believe you are prepared.

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Spiritual Sacrifices May 15, 2014

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1 Peter 2:2-10

Fifth Sunday of Easter

May 18, 2014

 

Focus: God is building us up as a spiritual house.

Function: That the hearers offer themselves as spiritual sacrifices.

Structure: This is the promise of the gospel…here is how we may live out that promise.

 

Spiritual Sacrifices

 

The ride into Jerusalem was an interesting one.  On the one hand it was hot, the back of the donkey rough, and the road a little bumpy.  But on the other hand, there was so much joy in the air.  Excitement filled the crowd, the people roared and applauded at the sight of Him riding into town.

But part of what made the journey difficult was knowing what would happen next.  After arriving, Jesus wept.  He looked up at the city and He wept.  He knew the people there didn’t believe.  He knew that these men and women would follow in the steps of their ancestors, that they would beat and kill God’s prophet.

And just a mere four days later, it was happening.  They had arrested Jesus.  And during the course of His trial, which was rigged from the beginning, they beat Him to the bone.  Qui-pish! (whipping sound), Qui-pish! 39 times.  Struck on the back.  Battered and bruised, dirty and bloody.  They slapped Him, they put on a crown of thorns and mocked Him.  They drove nails through His flesh.  They killed Him.

This is how Peter then looks at it in his letter.  “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.”  Zion is Jerusalem, one and the same, the holy city.  God handpicked His own Son for the journey and purpose that only He could fulfill.  Chosen and precious.  God’s own Son.  And through His death on the cross and His burial, God said, “I am laying in Zion a stone.”  This stone, the Christ, then, whoever believes in Him will live.  That’s the promise of the gospel.

We’ve seen it, we know it.  As Peter said, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Without a doubt, the leaders of God’s people, the Pharisees, the scribes, the teachers of the law, they were supposed to be building the church, building up God’s people and strengthening their faith.  It’s fitting to call them “builders” because that’s what they were supposed to be doing, spiritually at least.  To them, however, the Christ was “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”  They didn’t understand Him, and in their prejudice, they couldn’t stand Him.

It’s safe to say that this analogy is something Peter had experienced firsthand.  On the day when Christ asked His disciples what people were saying about Him, Peter made the marvelous confession of faith: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus looked at him and said, “On this rock I will build My church.”

Peter experienced this first hand.  You see, Peter is Greek for “rock.”  The name He is called by is a constant reminder of what Christ is doing, that He is the Son of God, our Savior.  Peter knew it because Peter lived it.

Christ is the cornerstone.  He is the One upon whom God has decided to build His church.  We are not alone, Christ is with us.  We’re not loners, trying to do church apart from Him, because it’s not possible.  It is through Him, and Him alone, that we’re saved.

But Peter decided in his writing to continue the analogy.  Why stop at Christ being the cornerstone?  What building do you know of that only has a cornerstone?  Christ said, “on this rock, I will build My church.”  Jesus is the foundation, He’s the thing that holds the building up and keeps us together.  We are the church.

Peter calls us “living stones [that] are being built up as a spiritual house.”  God’s house was once a physical building, the temple in the Old Testament.  But now, in and through Christ, God’s dwelling on earth is with His people.  Paul calls our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit.  Christ says that wherever two or more are gathered in His name, there He will be in the midst of them.

We are living stones.  We are the church.  Stone by stone, together, we are God’s people.  And so Peter says:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 

Have you ever thought of yourself that way before?  Have you ever stopped and considered that you’re been chosen for a role in God’s creation?  That He made you for a specific purpose, and He has called you to do the things you’re doing in your life?

Have you ever thought that you were a royal priesthood?  That God has called you to be His priest, the messenger of His love to the people around you?  Have you ever stopped to think about being a holy nation?  Not holy as in perfect, but holy as in set apart.  God has set you apart to be His church, His child, His messenger.  He has set you apart to proclaim His excellencies.  To tell the world how He brought you out of darkness and back into the light.

Christ’s sacrifice, His willingness to go to the cross and die for you is God’s mercy.  Mercy is when we don’t get what we deserve.  Through our sin, we deserve nothing but death.  And we have all sinned, many times.  We have all doubted that God makes us His people.  We’ve all doubted that He has specifically called us and put us in relationships with our family, friends and coworkers.  We have all struggled to share the gospel, to call others out of the darkness and into the light.  But God chose to punish His Son instead of us.  Because of Christ’s sacrifice, your deserved punishment is gone.  You don’t have to fear going to hell.  That’s mercy.

We are living stones.  We are the church.  And as such, Peter is calling on us to be the church.  He asks us to offer ourselves as spiritual sacrifices.  What does that mean?  It’s not saying you’re the burnt offering or the blood sacrifice of the Old Testament.  That part’s been taken care of by the cornerstone that is Christ.

Peter asks us to be Christ-like in all that we do.  To show His love, to share His love with everyone we know.  He’s asking us to go out of our way to feed the starving child, to put a roof over the head of the homeless.  He’s asking us to go out of our way to comfort the widow, to console the brokenhearted.  He’s asking us to go out of our way to eat with sinners, and to build friendships with the lost.

That’s sacrifice.  It’s casting aside yourself, the me-first attitude of our country, to care for someone else.  Even if it takes you to point of the death, like Stephen in Jerusalem, you give of yourself for others.  And while it’s not yet likely that you’ll die for your faith in America, you’ve all experienced sacrifice before.  You’ve raised children, cared for dying parents, helped sick spouses or siblings back to health.  You’ve taken the time to listen to the neighbor next door vent their problems.  You’ve given money to support and help people you don’t even know, when you easily could have kept it for yourself.  That’s sacrifice.  That’s the church.  That’s what Christ has done for you.  And that’s how Peter is calling for us to live each and every day of our lives.